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LOS ANGELES-The glass-is-half-full contingent wouldn’t have been satisfied with the first annual Allen Matkins Real Estate Symposium-View From the Top event in Century City on Monday. The event at the Hyatt Regency Century Plaza was fraught with gloomy forecasts from most speakers, including some bearish remarks from Arden Realty founder Richard Ziman.

“I didn’t think it would get as bad as this, I’ll be honest with you,” said Ziman, who sat on a finance panel at the event, which was attended by 500-plus industry professionals.

As the source of his concern for the economy, Ziman, chairman of AVP Advisors LLC, pointed to the “$74 trillion of derivatives out there,” rising unemployment and the mortgage-related economic problems. “I think this is the worst meltdown in the financial areas since the Great Depression,” he said. To add to this, Ziman said he doesn’t see a turnaround until the first quarter of 2010 and that with the federal government’s takeover of Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae, “This thing could conceivably get out of hand very quickly.”

And above all, no one really knows how bad it will get before it gets better, he said, adding that situation is “like a pinball machine—it could go full-tilt.”

Ziman’s remarks were preceded by a gloomy forecast from Eastdil Secured CEO Roy March, who started his presentation by referring to a similar forecast he delivered earlier this summer: “Unfortunately, it’s worse, it’s not better than when we did this back in July.”

March added, “It all kind of starts with the debt market disruption. Now we’re feeling the real pain here with the painful deleveraging that’s occurring in the marketplace.”

March noted that spreads tightened through the end of 2005 and came down significantly through 2006. Underwriting standards fell during those times, and the CMBS origination market ballooned.

“Spreads blew out in July 07, and have blown out some more.”Then the credit curve steepened dramatically. “It’s a have versus have-not market at this point,” he said. “US consumer confidence is at an absolute low,” March pointed out.

Ziman, who wasn’t entirely pessimistic, said “I think this is also an opportunistic time.” Referring to AVP, he said, “We are what’s called a real estate fund of funds” and that “We are investing with underlying funds of anywhere from $100 million to $300 million.”

Ziman said AVP plans to go back to market and try to raise $1 billion to $1.5 billion, “and that’s just domestically.” Currently the firms is looking at all property types and opportunities in industrial, office, hotels, distressed debt and distressed real estate, he said.

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